Human Worth


So eating chocolate will help me get more valuable right?

So eating chocolate will help me get more valuable right?

I was driving across the city to visit my sister. Traffic being what it is in this city I found myself diverted from the expected route onto an exit ramp overlooking a cemetery. In the brief moments as I descended the ramp it was possible to see that an interment was in progress: a large group of mourners dressed in uniform outfits of black were gathered around a plot carpeted in astro-turf: the only spot of green in sight.

I had enough time to think: “Maybe they will get rain- it always rains on funerals in movies” before traffic closed in and the gathering disappeared out of sight. Not “how sad, someone passed away” or “I wonder who that was when they were alive”. No. I was thinking about how the scene was being staged. Forcing my mind out of filmmaker mode I found myself thinking: “there was a dead body there”. And then I felt guilty. Why did I think that? Wasn’t the whole cemetery full of dead bodies? Wasn’t that the whole point of a funeral? Somehow it felt rude to acknowledge that death was even present.  The body was, after all, the guest of honor: why was I feeling guilty even thinking about it?

The funeral gathering seemed like an elaborate performance put on as a way to accomplish the task of burial without ever acknowledging that a death had taken place: the body was embalmed to appear living and lovingly tucked into a box sculpted and polished to look like a treasure chest: not human shaped in any way. This was draped with a cloth so that the box itself needn’t be observed. The grave had been dug and the dirt staged a discreet distance away out of sight. The ground around the grave was covered in astro-turf so the mourners would not need to acknowledge that the ground existed. The interior of the hole was lined with a cement vault. The body hidden in the box would go into the hole disguised with astro-turf and the ceremony of burial would be over without body or grave ever needing to be outright acknowledged.  Never in a hundred years would dirt touch the body.

It seemed like a lot of effort and expense. Was it worth it? I didn’t know. What, I asked myself, is a human worth?

And then I discovered that I didn’t know. Did humans have intrinsic value? We are finite beings, ergo we must have a quantifiable value, but how would such a thing be calculated? Was there an average value? What was human life really worth? Was there a gold standard against which the value of life could be measured? I found myself thinking of the phrase: “Worth their weight in gold” and I found myself wondering exactly what that amounted to. Looking up the price of gold, currently $1,207 per ounce with 16 ounces (12 troy  ounces: gold is measured in troy ounces) to a pound my gold-worth comes to roughly $3.2 million $2.46 million.

Not a bad number.

With six billion people on the planet, what a wealth we have in human life. You know, if human life could be measured in gold. It can’t, of course. There is no gold standard: we as humans are only valuable to other humans. Our value is a question of supply and demand. It comes as no surprise, then, that an individual should struggle with the question of worthiness: with no standard against which to measure ourselves how can we ever truly know our own worth? With no way to measure worth how can we claim to have worth at all except by what we strive for, accomplish, and provide for other humans. None of us our truly equal, yet no one is truly, intrinsically, better or worse than anybody else.

What a complex idea to try to keep in mind. No wonder we disguise the dead so thoroughly: what a reminder that our value comes from our thoughts and words and actions and not from our physical manifestations.

Deep thoughts for a Friday.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on May 22, 2015.

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